Women Waste Collectors
In developing countries where the most impoverished people live alongside garbage heaps and landfills, many earn livings as waste collectors. Although women waste collectors significantly outnumber male waste collectors, they face inequalities and disproportionate economic and health impacts in comparison to their male counterparts.

Plastic Waste Exports to Developing Countries

Wealthy countries often export their plastic waste to developing countries. The United States shipped close to “1.5 billion pounds of plastic waste to 95 countries” in 2019 alone. Developing countries welcome this waste as these nations receive trade incentives for accepting plastic waste exports from other countries. Plastic waste, therefore, stands as a source of income and a way to ease the suffering of a country’s most impoverished populations.

However, many developing countries lack the facilities and recycling programs to manage plastic waste effectively. The consequence is that the waste piles up and pollutes the surrounding environment. Individuals also resort to burning the waste, a practice that emits harmful dioxins into the air.

The environmental and health consequences of plastic waste disproportionately impact people who live and work in or around plastic waste dumps. In many countries, the informal waste collecting industry goes unregulated because they do not recognize waste-collecting as official employment. Because of this, there are often no protocols in place to ensure that waste collectors conduct their jobs safely.

The situation intensified in 2018 upon China’s refusal to accept foreign plastic waste, prompting countries to divert waste to other nations in Asia and Africa. The world openly burns roughly “41% of waste,” however, in some cities in Africa, as much as 75% of waste disposal consists of burning rather than recycling.

Waste Collecting as a Livelihood

The low value of plastic waste means women waste collectors remain stuck in a cycle of extreme poverty. In Nakuru, Kenya, waste collectors average a daily income of less than $2 per day “before accounting for expenses such as storage or transportation.” In terms of plastic specifically, in Nairobi, Kenya, waste pickers receive less than $0.05 per kilogram of plastic.

Although informal industries such as waste-collecting are challenging to monitor, according to a study in Ghana of women waste collectors in the plastic value chain, women who work as plastic waste collectors typically earn less than men. These women also have less power in the workplace, compete with men for the most valuable recyclables and lack equipment such as pushcarts, storage facilities and personal protective equipment. In Ghana, 74% of women working in plastic waste facilities have the lowest-paying positions (such as washing and sorting) and only 7% of women work in positions that allow them to make decisions.

Chemicals in Plastics Disproportionately Harm Women

The chemicals added to plastics during manufacturing come with known human health risks and some that disproportionately harm women. Body fat is an ideal storage site for bioaccumulating and lipophilic chemicals, and because women’s bodies store more fat than men’s, exposure to these chemicals leads to higher concentrations of absorption in women, even when the exposure rate is the same.

Chemicals that cause endocrine disruption (a process that changes the body’s hormonal system) can cause cancers, congenital disabilities, immune disorders, reproductive disorders, neurological disorders and developmental problems in women, fetuses and children. Endocrine disruptors (EDCs) such as bisphenol A, phthalates, dioxins, lead and cadmium are present in plastics used for food packaging, electronics, textiles, cosmetics and more. EDCs are an urgent international health issue, especially for developing countries where people are unable to protect themselves against high levels of exposure.

WIEGO Empowers Women Waste Collectors

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) is an international organization dedicated to improving the conditions of people (especially women) who work in informal industries, such as women waste collectors. WIEGO has formed a partnership with Latin American waste collector movements, as well as organizations and institutions, to form the Gender & Waste project, “a collaborative project involving waste pickers.”

The Gender & Waste project works to empower women by highlighting gender-related discrimination among waste collectors and addressing the needs of women who work in this role. The Gender & Waste project offers educational workshops, toolkits and videos to both raise awareness and empower women waste collectors. The Gender & Waste project has empowered women waste collectors in Latin America to “mobilize more collectively and demand that gender be a key issue on the agenda of the national movement.”

In areas of the world where the government recognizes and supports waste collecting, such as in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, waste collectors generally “have higher incomes than other informal workers.” By empowering women waste collectors to unionize, initiatives like the Gender & Waste project help to improve working conditions, promote personal safety and ensure higher incomes. Safer working environments and higher incomes for women waste collectors safeguard the health and well-being of women and empower them to rise out of poverty.

– Jenny Rice
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap In Namibia
Namibia ranks sixth in the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021, the highest-ranked African country for bridging the gap between women and men economic opportunity, educational attainment, health and political empowerment measure. In just nine years, Namibia has climbed 35 spots, excelling past Canada and the United States in the Global Gender Gap Report. A closer look at Namibia’s history provides insight into actions taken to bridge this gap and how the gender wage gap in Namibia still plays a role in society today.

Post-Independence Namibia Focuses on Gender Equality

Prior to Namibia gaining independence, many considered women the property of men. When Namibia gained full independence from South Africa in 1990, it implemented numerous changes aimed at improving gender equality, as well as equality for all, in the new constitution. Article 10 states that “[n]o persons shall be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, color, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status,” emphasizing Namibia’s commitment to equality.

Also, the Married Persons Equality Act became law in 1996. The act allows women to sign contracts, register a property in their name and act as directors of companies. Women in Namibia hold about 44% of the managerial professions.

In the year 2013, “Namibia’s ruling party, the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO),” implemented a 50/50 gender policy that requires “equal representation of men and women” in parliament. At the time of the policy creation, women filled only 25% of the positions in parliament. Currently, women occupy 44% of the seats in parliament, proving that the gender policy has been effective in adding more women to work in government roles. The government’s adoption of these policies aid in creating a more inclusive environment for women in Namibia, particularly in political and urban settings.

More Women Seek an Education

Women in Namibia are leading their male counterparts in post-secondary education with a tertiary education enrollment rate of 30% for women and 15% for men. At the largest university in Namibia, the University of Namibia (UNAM), 64% of the students are women while only 36% are men. Many women continue on to obtain their master’s degrees or doctoral degrees. Once out of school, the labor force participation rate for women drops below men at 57% and 64% respectively. Even though more women seek secondary education than men, women earn less than men in several industries.

While the gender wage gap in Namibia is less prominent than that of many other countries, the distribution of wealth is immensely unequal. According to the Gini index, which measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income, Namibia ranks second-highest in comparison to all other countries in the world. Namibia has one of the highest Gini index ratings because of its high unemployment rate, with women more likely to experience unemployment. About 64% of Namibians survive on less than $5.55 per person per day, which equates to slightly more than $2,000 a year. The average amount U.S. citizens spend on a summer vacation is roughly the same.

Namibians Continue to Reach for Gender Equality

Much like other patriarchal societies, when women and men reach for equality, there are often roadblocks along the way. While women in Namibia now occupy 44% of the positions in parliament, they are still shy of the 50% goal of the 50/50 gender policy. The gender wage gap in Namibia has narrowed significantly, but there is still massive inequality concerning family income distribution. There is also an underlying dialogue in Namibia that women are inferior to men. Sexual and gender-based violence is prevalent due to societal and cultural norms. In fact, among the age group of 15 to 49, 28% of women and 22% of men in Namibia believe a husband beating his wife as a form of discipline constitutes a justifiable act. These beliefs contribute to a culture of gender inequality, which often proliferates inequalities in the workplace and perpetuates traditional gender roles.

Fortunately, the government is continuing to implement policies beneficial to gender equality. Additionally, women are pursuing secondary education at astounding rates, which is crucial in combating gender-based disparities as well as decreasing the gender wage gap in Namibia.

– Amy Helmendach
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality Reforms
Vietnam’s gender disparities have come under scrutiny in recent years in part because of the global push for gender equality. Despite the nation’s progress in closing the gender gap in both education and labor participation, inequalities still persist. Recognizing this phenomenon, the Vietnamese government recently renewed its Labor Code, reaffirming its commitment to achieving gender parity through gender equality reforms. The reformed Labor Code aims to advance gender equality in the workplace. Vietnam drafted its revamped Labor Code in 2019 to go into effect in 2021. Here are five of its proposed reforms to promote gender equality in the Vietnamese workplace.

5 Gender Equality Reforms in the Vietnamese Workplace

  1. Equal Pay for Equal Work. The new Labor Code limits the gender wage gap in Vietnam by tackling gender discrimination in the workplace. Vietnam’s 2016 Labor Force Survey revealed that women receive 10.7% less than men, with the gender wage gap standing at 8.1% for unskilled female workers and 19.7% for female employees with higher education qualifications. The amended Labor Code “maintains the payment of equal wages for work of equal value.”
  2. Equal Access to Jobs. As of 2019, legislation denied Vietnamese female workers “access to 77 jobs” on the basis of sex, pregnancy or child caretaking responsibilities. These “prohibited jobs include occupations that are heavy and hazardous such as in construction, mining and fisheries.” The amended Labor Code removes these prohibitions, and instead, gives women the right to choose an occupation suitable for them.
  3. Paid Paternity Leave. Only women workers in Vietnam receive paid parental leave to care for sick children younger than 7 years old, perpetuating the stereotype that women are the primary caretakers of their children. Because males “have the same capacity to care for children and the home,” males should be able to take this leave as well. As such, the new Labor Code “now entitles male employees to paid paternity leave” so that this responsibility is equal. Gender discrimination both in hiring and workplace practices hinders women’s abilities to contribute fully and fairly to the Vietnamese labor force.
  4. Addressing Discriminatory Barriers. The reformed Labor Code seeks to combat discriminatory barriers. The law includes protections against discrimination based on marital status, pregnancy, disability and more. Female workers can now take daily breaks to breastfeed children younger than 12 months old. During menstruation, women can take a 30-minute break.
  5. Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Vietnam also seeks to address sexual harassment in the workplace. Statistics show that women constitute 80% of victims of workplace sexual harassment. The amended law provides a specific definition of sexual harassment to ensure justice for victims, including any form of physical, verbal or non-verbal harassment. The government broadened this definition of the workplace to include a wide variety of “work-related locations.” Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace “will improve retention and productivity of all women workers.”

Striving for Gender Equality in Vietnam

By combating gender equality in the workplace, Vietnam has the potential to better its economy while advancing women’s rights. With reforms to improve gender equality, Vietnam aligns with global goals as the fight for equality dominates the global discourse. Aiming to achieve a work-life balance for both men and women dissolves gender stereotypes. Business owners, employers and employees can now rely on a strong legal framework against sexual harassment. More importantly, the adjusted Labor Code empowers women and inspires more female workers to join the workforce. These efforts will inevitably help advance gender equality in Vietnam.

– Tri Truong
Photo: Unsplash

Aiding Nepalese Women
Landlocked between India and China and considered the modern-day birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. One in four families lives in poverty in a country where food shortages, natural disasters and severe weather are extremely common. Women’s rights in Nepal are also limited due to lack of education, high rates of violence against women and historical patriarchal practices within their government. Here is more information about the situation in Nepal and how some are aiding Nepalese women.

The Situation

The United Nations recognizes Nepalese women’s need for aid. As a result, it has implemented volunteer programs centered around solving food insecurity and improving health education and much more to provide assistance and sustainable, long-term solutions to Nepalese communities.

Because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, approximately 41% of women in Nepal lost their jobs and main sources of income. Women who were once financially independent now faced a reality that meant relying on others to provide for their families. Seeing this widespread problem, the women of Nepal united during this trying time and established women-managed community kitchens centered around aiding Nepalese women in poverty and eliminating the food insecurity crisis the country has been facing.

UN Women

U.N. Women and the Government of Finland are working with local women to develop these community kitchens and provide a sustainable source of food. Only 20% of land in Nepal is capable of being cultivated. These community kitchens are not only providing food for the people of Nepal, but they are also empowering these women to combat local food insecurity due to their weather conditions.

The meals include “rice, daal (lentil soup), spinach, vegetable, pickle, fruits, ladoo (sweets), and a bottle of water.” Daily, these community kitchens cook up to 250 meals, but sometimes they have even produced more than 500 requested meals in a day. Women for Human Rights, Maiti Nepal, Nagarik Aawaz and Nari Bikas Sangh have all created women-run community kitchens in Nepal serving 95,000 meals and providing baby food to 30,000 people since June 2020.

In total, more than 100 women work for and run the Nepal community kitchens and are making a real impact in their communities through their work. By building trust and uniting a community, vulnerable groups of women like migrants, dwellers, ill or sick women, pregnant women or women with disabilities have been able to find leadership roles in their communities. Nepal’s women-run community kitchens show the impact women can have against poverty in their own country.

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV)

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) program began in 1988 in Nepal. The all-female volunteers are also advocates and educators on maternal health, newborn caretaking, childhood health and nutrition. The implementation of programs like the “National Immunization Program, Birth Preparedness Package, Community-Based Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness (CB-IMNCI), Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition, Infant and Young Child Feeding, and Family Planning program” are all possible because of the U.N.’s FCHV program. The program also provides frontline workers during polio vaccine campaigns and other communicable disease advocacy efforts.

Clean cooking is also a problem in Nepal, so besides community kitchens, Nepal has rerouted the FCHV program to help combat this issue. FCHVs go from home to home to educate local women on the harms of certain fuels used when cooking. Alternating from wood and kerosene with an open flame to biogas, petroleum gas and electric stoves lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of pneumonia. The long-term health effects are detrimental, and these volunteers are working hard to keep their communities safe and healthy through their FCHV programs.

Maiti Nepal

Besides providing food for the community and a living wage for the women running the kitchens, groups like Maiti Nepal have used these community kitchens as an opportunity to educate locals on the dangers of COVID-19. Providing masks and sanitizer along with the meals has also promoted better public health for the country which the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. Women in the FCHV program aid in any area of the community that needs help, so they became frontline workers and educators during the pandemic.

Looking Ahead

The U.N. is constantly working to improve women’s leadership and empowerment in countries facing low rates of women’s involvement in politics and places of power. By 2022, Nepal is aiming to graduate from the least developed country status, and the work these women are doing is directly contributing to the completion of this goal.

The United Nations is aiding Nepalese women in more ways than one and is constantly developing programs like the community kitchens and the FCHV program to fit the needs of each specific community. The women volunteering in these programs are working towards a better tomorrow for their local people and nation as a whole.

– Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Côte d'IvoireWomen in Côte d’Ivoire have grappled with gender discriminatory practices for years. Examples include political exclusion, limited access to land and marginalization from high-paying jobs. According to the National Statistics Institute, 75% of rural Ivorian women live below the poverty line. Without access to basic social services, the chances of reaching economic independence are low for these women. Gender constraints highly limit women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire.

4 Facts About Women’s Rights in Côte d’Ivoire

  1. Land Rights: The primary source of wealth in Côte d’Ivoire is land as the economy mainly depends on agriculture. About 66% of the land is used for agriculture and 43% of women participate in the agricultural workforce. However, women often lack rights to land due to customary laws that favor males, depriving women of economic empowerment. A lack of access to land also impacts women’s access to credit services that would also help women economically.
  2. Unpaid Care Work: In many societies, women shoulder the burden of household chores and caregiving duties. This is also the case in Côte d’Ivoire. According to U.N. Women, “women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men.” As a consequence, women have less time to participate in paid work and engage in educational opportunities that would help them rise out of poverty.
  3. Fertility Rates: Côte d’Ivoire’s fertility rate is high. In 2019, it averaged 4.6 births per woman. High fertility rates increase health risks for children and their mothers. It also lessens human capital investment, decelerates economic growth and aggravates environmental threats. High fertility rates correlate with inadequate access to family planning methods, low educational attainment and low levels of empowerment. Studies show that, worldwide, more “empowered women desire significantly fewer children” in contrast to less empowered women.
  4. Politics and Education: Women lack a voice within the public, social and political domains. The male-centered culture of Ivorian society does not accept the leadership of women in the public arena. In February 2021, just 11% of Ivorian women held positions as members of parliament. Despite the presence of women in Côte d’Ivoire’s government, women’s electoral weight is limited by minimal female representation so women are unable to hold true decisional power in politics. Moreover, in 2018, 40.5% of women were literate compared to 53.6% of men, putting women at a clear disadvantage.

Upholding Women’s Rights

The Organization of Active Women in Ivory Coast (OFACI) is a non-governmental organization founded in 1999 that focuses on fighting for women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire. Its goals include increasing the literacy of girls and encouraging women’s leadership in social, political and economic environments. By creating programs to educate and support women, OFACI hopes to eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination against women. OFACI has 10 observation locations across the country that monitor and report on women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire on a monthly basis. The organization has recently been pushing for, at minimum, a 30% representation of women in politics.

Recent progress in the country includes a marriage bill that was approved by the Council of Ministers of Côte d’Ivoire in 2019. Its main goal is to legislate equality between men and women in marriage through specific provisions. These solutions include new rules for the nullity of marriage, inheritance rights and marital property distribution. Another aim of the bill is to increase the age of legal marriage. This legislative progress provides hope for women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire.

UN Women Shea Butter Program

Another example of an innovative program that targets women’s empowerment is a climate-smart agricultural program launched by U.N. Women in Côte d’Ivoire in 2017. The program, funded by the Government of Japan, seeks to empower rural women in the shea butter production sector. The traditional method used to produce shea butter requires intense labor. The resulting product fails to meet international quality standards so the women who work in this field struggle to make high profits. Since October 2017, U.N. Women trained 300 women on improved production practices and upgraded equipment in manufacturing facilities to meet international standards. The program also assisted women in the shea butter industry with financing and market access.

Despite the discrimination against women in Côte d’Ivoire, change is coming. NGOs and the government are stepping up to ensure greater equality among women and men and uphold the rights of women in the country.

– Virginia Arena
Photo: Flickr

sustainable brands fighting povertyThere are many sustainable fashion brands fighting poverty. In many countries, jewelry making is not only a tradition but also a way to make a living. Many poverty-stricken countries rely on fashion production to keep their economy going. Because of this, brands that provide their garment workers a fair living wage and safe working conditions help alleviate poverty in low-income areas. Sustainability lifts workers out of cycles of poverty by making long-lasting products from sustainable materials. The following brands produce fair trade products and are finding alternative ways to continue fighting global poverty.

ARMEDANGELS

ARMEDANGELS is a fair fashion brand that prioritizes producing contemporary and modern collections with fairly produced, eco-friendly and high-quality products. The company ensures high standards and fair working conditions by working with PETA, the Fair Wear Foundation and the Fairtrade Organization. Since 2011, the brand has been Global Organic Textile Certified (GOTS) and only works with regenerative and sustainable materials, which include organic linen, organic wool, recycled cotton, organic cotton and more.

In April 2018, the company founded ARMEDANGELS Organic Farmers Association to help small farmers transition from conventional cotton to organic cotton. The brand also strives in pushing for social change by engaging in political and environmental activism. Within its Greener Deal, donations were provided to organizations actively involved in climate protection in Europe and Germany. ARMEDANGELS also achieved climate neutrality and its CO2 emissions are two-thirds lower in intensity than classic fashion companies.

SOKO

SOKO is a certified women-led B-corp ethical jewelry brand that employs Kenyan artisans who produce collections for conscious consumers. This company believes that economic sovereignty and financial inclusion provide lasting impacts and actively works to reduce poverty and inequality. The brand works toward this goal with its virtual manufacturing platform. The platform connects 2,300 independent artisans with a global marketplace through mobile technology. The SOKO platform allows artists to receive orders and payments to hand-make products from upcycled and ethically sourced materials. Because of this network, workers can improve and preserve their cultural techniques at scale. They can also earn five times more than those employed in an average artisan workplace.

SOKO employees only work 50% or less of their total capacity. This helps them to avoid sole reliance on this particular sustainable fashion brand, to guarantee their freedom and to encourage sustainable, long-term economic sovereignty. Because of policies like this, the United Nations, USAID and the World Bank have endorsed SOKO for its social impact.

Nudie Jeans

Nudie Jeans is a Swedish denim brand founded in 2001 that produces 100% organic cotton denim collections for more than 50 countries. The company prioritizes environmental and social sustainability through its free repair services, resale of secondhand trade-in jeans and by paying its garment workers a living wage. Since 2016, Nudie Jeans’ stakeholders have verified that 3,400 workers have been provided additional payments to ensure a living wage. These payments expanded in 2019 to include workers employed in the spinning mills, knitting and processing units. This has the effect of creating a fair trade system throughout its supply chain.

Akola

Akola is a jewelry brand that uplifts Ugandan women by providing empowering job opportunities in Jinja, Uganda. Akola employs nearly 200 Ugandan women. By handcrafting each piece, female workers break free from poverty through fair-paying jobs that help them achieve economic independence. Because of this policy, positive economic impacts reverberate through families and communities.

The women are also provided with a holistic curriculum of programs. The brand offers training programs on leadership, financial literacy and skills to become self-reliant. This brand uses cultural techniques and local and sustainable materials such as upcycled palm leaves, cow horns and agave plants. The impact of Akola is shown by the fact that 66% of Akola-employed women own land or a home, almost 80% of Akola children are enrolled in school and almost 30% of Akola women are in community leadership positions.

These sustainable fashion brands fighting poverty help create solutions in the fashion industry. Supporting fair fashion can help garment workers escape the cycle of poverty.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Mali's Shea Butter
As the sun rises over the wild-growing shea trees in Mali, West Africa, women from surrounding villages frequently work at the base of the towering trees gathering up the precious shea fruit. Encased within the fruit’s delicious pulp is the invaluable shea nut. Once their containers are full, the Malian women walk several kilometers back to their villages with up to 50 kilos of fruit in teetering baskets upon their heads. There, the fruit heads storage until it is ready for processing. Mali’s shea butter production has the potential to uplift the country’s economy significantly.

Great Demand and Inadequate Supply

Mali is the second-largest producer of shea nuts. It supplies more than 20% of the world’s shea nuts, which primarily go toward making shea butter. Shea butter’s primary use is in food and cosmetic products. The shea butter industry has grown over 600% in the last 20 years and is still on the rise. West Africa exports more than 350,000 tons of shea butter annually. In short, demand is not an issue but due to inadequate processing technology, Mali’s full wealth potential of shea butter production has not undergone realization. With over 42% of the country’s population living in poverty, the untapped possibilities of a modernized, efficient shea butter production practice desperately needed unearthing. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) decided to do just that.

The IFC Lends a Hand

The IFC is loaning approximately $3 million to Mali Shi, a shea nut processing plant located just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. The goal is to build a new, more modern plant with updated technology to boost efficiency and promote a better product. The IFC has also committed itself to offering training in business and finance as well as management skills to the shea nut suppliers in Mali. The shea supply chain in Mali mostly consists of women. Therefore, the bolstering of the shea butter industry in this region will allow these women to pay for their children’s schooling, invest in a family business and access transportation.

Prioritizing the Valuable Resource

The shea butter industry is not slowing down any time soon and women in low-income countries are on the frontlines. As the shea fad continues, more and more companies that use shea butter in their products are working to keep their focus on the hard-working women supplying the shea nuts. As companies bring in profits, many are fighting to ensure the suppliers of the valuable shea nuts are reaping the benefits of the backbreaking work.

Ghanaian American Rahama Wright is one of them. Rahama’s company, Shea Yeleen, has a business model that benefits the suppliers in the West African countries producing the shea butter. Shea Yeleen offers shea producers five times the typical income. Instead of an average of $2 per day for the labor-intensive work, many suppliers are now receiving $10 per day from Rahama’s company. Additionally, many of the women who belong to the cooperatives Shea Yeleen supports receive health insurance, training and access to savings groups. Shea Yeleen ensures its suppliers receive compensation by processing payments through the cooperatives and requiring signed payment receipts from cooperative members.

The Future Looks Bright

In a nutshell, as demand for Mali’s shea butter continues to rise, investment in shea entrepreneurs is vital. The efforts to modernize shea processing in Mali offer a bridge between a life of poverty and one of financial stability. For more than 120,000 individual shea nut suppliers to Mali Shi (95% of which are women) the ability to process shea butter with a higher level of efficiency means a brighter future. This empowerment not only benefits the farmers directly affected but also provides an opportunity for serious economic growth for the country.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

The Benefits of Investing in Women
Gender equality, or rather a lack of gender equality, is not simply a historical problem. To this day, women all around the world face inequality. One of the most notable issues pertaining to gender inequality is the gender wage gap. Its impacts affect not only women but society as a whole. To end the gender wage gap and other inequalities, society must start to recognize the benefits of investing in women.

The Gender Wage Gap Explained

There are two types of gender wage gaps. The controlled wage gap refers to when a man and a woman have the same exact job in the same exact industry with the same exact qualifications. In this situation, as of 2021, women earn 98 cents per $1 that men earn. This seemingly small upfront difference builds up over time, and the pay discrepancy leads to very dissimilar outcomes for these two genders.

An uncontrolled wage gap is the second type. The uncontrolled wage gap refers to the overall difference between men’s and women’s wages. It does not matter what job it is, what industry one works in or if one works full- or part-time. The measurement takes into account how much each worker makes on average per hour each year. This gap is much more prominent—a woman makes 82 cents to a man’s $1 as of 2021.

Companies provide several “justifications” for why women receive less pay than men within the organizations, but actual reasons include employers’ implicit biases, a wage penalty that accompanies motherhood and a higher likelihood of women working part-time. This is based on if women have the opportunity to obtain higher-wage jobs within such companies. Often, women are unable to attend school to receive the qualifications necessary for high-skilled work.

These inequalities in labor compensation become more glaringly obvious when it comes to unpaid labor. Women are more than twice as likely as men to participate in unpaid work. Notably, the most frequent unpaid jobs women take on are domestic work and child care. In impoverished communities, women must sacrifice their education to fulfill the expectation to manage the household and raise children.

The Importance of Investing in Women

Beyond equality, investing in women provides a multitude of economic benefits. The unpaid labor women often take on can actually hinder the economy. Economists estimate that unpaid domestic workers—if paid—could constitute approximately 40% of a nation’s GDP. A lack of education for women also plays a role in stunting economies. When women receive education, economies tap into a whole new sector of individuals that bring new, innovative ideas to the table, which help economies grow. Further, studies show that for every 10% of girls enrolled in school in a developing country, the GDP increases long-term by 3%.

In addition to paying women for labor and educating women, it is imperative to give women advancement opportunities. Women make up approximately half of the agricultural labor force but less than 13% of landholders globally. If women obtain the same amount of land, technology and capital as men, there could be an estimated 30% increase in food production. In this way, empowering women could help to substantially reduce world hunger. On the more industrial side, studies show that both efficiency and organization significantly increase when three or more women enter senior positions at companies.

A Better Society For All

Decreasing the wage gap begins in three main areas: women’s unpaid work, education and health. When women in developing countries receive aid and money, the aid does not stop at just the direct beneficiary. Women are likely to extend the benefits to those around them; women tend to invest their earned money into their children’s education and health as well as their own. Giving women financial tools has economic gain for all and promotes economic justice.

The best way to ensure a fair economy is to invest in women, particularly in developing countries. Women should have the opportunity to work the same jobs, receive the same qualifications and have the same economic opportunities as men. Society’s way forward is through taking advantage of the benefits of investing in women.

– Becca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Sex Work in Myanmar 
Ten months since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, discussions of the numerous economic harms that the lockdown proposed are practically rote. Still, this familiarity does not detract from the importance of addressing these harms, particularly the more vicious and damaging among them. These descriptors apply to the lives of predominantly female former garment workers in Myanmar. Unemployed and facing poverty, many of these workers feel that they have had to enter sex work due to their new circumstances, despite sex work in Myanmar now being riskier and less profitable than it was before the pandemic.

The Situation

At the start of 2020, many considered Myanmar a growing hotspot for apparel manufacturing. The country’s cheap labor, numerous seaports and zero duty benefit on goods exported to the European Union have allowed its industry to follow in the footsteps of garment exporters like China, Vietnam and Bangladesh – garment exports have grown by almost $1 billion annually since 2015, totaling $4.37 billion in the first 11 months of FY 2018-19.

In the following months of lockdown, however, hundreds of thousands of garment workers experienced layoffs as 223 factories closed down. Reports from September 2020 claimed that the year’s garment orders fell by 75%-80% compared to those received in 2019, in line with widespread cancellations filed early on in the pandemic. The result has been a sharp spike in the number of jobless women in Myanmar.

Amid this precarity, many have turned to sex work as a way of sustaining themselves. One interviewee reported to the Guardian that “Especially the girls who worked for factories that have closed during the pandemic… They have to pay their rent and debts and feed their families. They have no option.”

About Sex Work in Myanmar

Besides being illegal, sex work in Myanmar has become more dangerous during the pandemic. Public spaces where workers previously found clients or conducted their business, like bars, massage parlors and hotels, are now largely closed under Myanmar’s social distancing protocols. As a result, workers must place themselves in more compromising scenarios to find clients.

One sex worker, which the Myanmar Times interviewed in June 2020, reportedly “found herself with alcoholics and drug addicts,” lacking the protection of her former “boss.” “At times she thought she’d be abused… assaulted or even killed.” Further, sex work brings workers into direct contact with people who may have COVID-19.

Sex work is also less profitable now. Where typical rates in Yangon rested between K15,000 and K30,000 before the pandemic, “many sex workers have reduced their prices to K5,000 during the COVID-19 outbreak.” This is because of the large influx of workers, but also because of a drop in clients.

Shamed in mainstream society, sex workers in Myanmar lack access to local support networks that are typically present in other countries. Many commonly view prostitution as a form of punishment inflicted for wrongs committed in past lives. International NGOs and medical organizations are providing the brunt of public resources out there.

Solutions

In spite of these hardships, many of Myanmar’s new sex workers feel that the precariousness of their former jobs forced them into their situation. Garment factory strikes in April and May 2020 met with government arrests and anti-union labor laws. Leaders of these protests spent months in prison, missing out on earning time that their families needed to make it through the lockdown.

As an issue with upstream causes, many former garment workers who are now carrying out sex work are facing domestic violence, police stings and jail time, social stigma, STIs and COVID-19. Food Not Bombs (Myanmar), a local branch of the global NGO which has operated since 2013, has made public commitments toward aiding sex workers. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Food Not Bombs (Myanmar) has distributed foods, such as rice, oil and eggs, to people whose livelihoods have been interrupted due to lockdowns, targeting sex workers, trishaw drivers, food vendors and the elderly in particular. It donates food every other Sunday at community events that occur at the Mandalay Community Center in Mandalay, Myanmar.

Food Not Bombs (Myanmar) has also partnered with Yangon urban redevelopment NGO Doh Eain to provide cash transfers for street workers who can no longer earn a living under lockdown. The hope with these initiatives is that consistent donations of food and money will help out-of-work women sustain themselves through the lockdown. Stable, alternative means of sustenance will help reduce sex work in Myanmar by offering women a third option besides going hungry and putting themselves in danger.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr